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Battle of Britian Without Churchill?

Discussion in 'What If - European Theater - Western Front & Atlan' started by Carl W Schwamberger, Dec 22, 2007.

  1. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    I'm breaking my self-imposed 'What If?' embargo by commenting here, but what Ron Goldstein has said exactly matches what my parents have told me, and also my late grandparents.

    Granted, Attlee was a proficient Prime Minister but the without inspired personal leadership and great force of character, the Country would have been in dire straits indeed ( can one imaging Attlee forcing Whitehall mandarins to seriously consider 'choking to death on their own blood' ? ).

    I really cannot think of anyone else on the political scene at that time with sufficient dynamism.
     
  2. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    I see. Thanks for further enlightening me.
     
  3. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Progress here at last. I find these eyewitness accounts as valuable as the expert analysis. These last few remarks here leave me with the feeling that without Churchills leadership Britian would have sought a armistice in 1940, & possibly a permanent peace soon after. While at one level I am not ready to accept that as a final judgement the question has appeared before and not much of a positive answer emerges. This led me to pose the question of if not Churchill then who? on this venue, in hope of learning a bit more about the lesser known leaders in Britian.

    Can anyone recomend any literature on the subject of Britans politics forigen policy of those years that might shed some further light?
     
  4. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Here's something I dug up on the net that provides a viewpoint on this subject. Though it comes from Wikepedia, what it contains is essentially corroborated by my old Britannica encyclopedia and my copy of Time magazine 1940 capsule. One of the things that struck me here is that before Chamberlain became premier, Churchill was considered a candidate but was rejected, implying that Britain preferred peace, not war. And it was pointed out here that had Halifax become PM, Britain would have sued for peace.

    -----
    When Hitler invaded and seized the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Chamberlain felt betrayed by the breaking of the Munich Agreement and decided to take a much harder line against the Nazis, declaring war against Germany upon their invasion of Poland.
    The repeated failures of the Baldwin government to deal with rising Nazi power are often laid, historically, on the doorstep of Chamberlain, since he presided over the final collapse of European affairs, resisted acting on military information, lied to the House of Commons about Nazi military strength, shunted out opposition which, correctly, warned of the need to prepare – and above all, failed to use the months profitably to ready for the oncoming conflict. However, it is also true that by the time of his premiership, dealing with the Nazi Party in Germany was an order of magnitude more difficult. Germany had begun general conscription previously, and had already amassed an air arm. Chamberlain, caught between the bleak finances of the depression era and his own abhorrence of war – and a Kriegsherr who would not be denied a war – gave ground and entered history as a political scapegoat for what was a more general failure of political will and vision which had begun with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
    The policy of keeping the peace had broad support; had the Commons wanted a more aggressive prime minister, Winston Churchill would have been the obvious choice. Even after the outbreak of war, it was not clear that the invasion of Poland need lead to a general conflict. What convicted Chamberlain in the eyes of many commentators and historians was not the policy itself, but his manner of carrying it out and the failure to hedge his bets. Many of his contemporaries viewed him as stubborn and unwilling to accept criticism, an opinion backed up by his dismissal of cabinet ministers who disagreed with him on foreign policy. If accurate, this assessment of his personality would explain why Chamberlain strove to remain on friendly terms with the Third Reich long after many of his colleagues became convinced that Hitler could not be restrained.
    Chamberlain believed passionately in peace for many reasons (most of which are discussed in the article Appeasement), thinking it his job as Britain's leader to maintain stability in Europe; like many people in Britain and elsewhere, he thought that the best way to deal with Germany's belligerence was to treat it with kindness and meet its demands. He also believed that the leaders of men are essentially rational beings, and that Hitler must necessarily be rational as well. Most historians believe that Chamberlain, in holding to these views, pursued the policy of appeasement far longer than was justifiable, but it is not exactly clear whether any course could have averted war, and whether the outcome would have been any better had armed hostilities begun earlier, given that France, as well, was unwilling to commit its forces, and there were no other effective allies: Italy had joined the Pact of Steel, the USSR had signed a non-aggression pact, and the United States was still officially isolationist.
    He did, however, abort the proposal of von Kleist and Wilhelm Canaris before the invasion to Austria to eliminate Hitler, deciding instead to play on the edge of the situation: to maintain a strong anti-communist power in Central Europe, with the Nazis, accepting some 'reward' on 'lebensraum' and still 'manage' with Hitler. Chamberlain, who was nicknamed "Monsieur J'aime Berlin" (French for Mr I love Berlin) just before the outbreak of hostilities, remained hopeful up until Germany's invasion of the Low Countries that a peace treaty to avert a general war could be obtained in return for concessions "that we don't really care about". This policy was widely criticised both at the time and since; but given that the French General Staff was determined not to attack Germany but instead remain on the strategic defensive, what alternatives Chamberlain could have pursued are not clear. It is true that he used the months of the Phoney War to complete development of the Spitfire and Hurricane, and to strengthen the RDF or Radar defence grid in Britain. Both of these priorities would pay crucial dividends in the Battle of Britain.

    [edit] Outbreak of war

    On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Many in the United Kingdom expected war, but the government did not wish to make a formal declaration unless it had the support of France. France's intentions were unclear at that point, and the government could only give Germany an ultimatum: if Hitler withdrew his troops within two days, Britain would help to open talks between Germany and Poland. When Chamberlain announced this in the House on September 2, there was a massive outcry. The prominent Conservative former minister Leo Amery, believing that Chamberlain had failed in his responsibilities, famously called on the acting Leader of the Opposition Arthur Greenwood to "Speak for England, Arthur!" Chief Whip David Margesson told Chamberlain that he believed the government would fall if war was not declared. After bringing further pressure on the French, who agreed to parallel the British action, Britain declared war on 3 September 1939.
    In Chamberlain's radio broadcast to the nation, he said:
    "This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany".
    You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more, or anything different, that I could have done, and that would have been more successful... We have a clear conscience, we have done all that any country could do to establish peace, but a situation in which no word given by Germany's ruler could be trusted, and no people or country could feel themselves safe, had become intolerable... Now may God bless you all and may He defend the right. For it is evil things that we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression, and persecution. And against them I am certain that the right will prevail.
    As part of the preparations for conflict, Chamberlain asked all his ministers to "place their offices in his hands" so that he could carry out a full-scale reconstruction of the government. The most notable new recruits were Winston Churchill and the former Cabinet Secretary Maurice Hankey, now Baron Hankey. Much of the press had campaigned for Churchill's return to government for several months, and taking him aboard looked like a good way to strengthen the government, especially as both the Labour Party and Liberal Party declined to join.
    Initially, Chamberlain intended to make Churchill a minister without portfolio (possibly with the sinecure office of Lord Privy Seal) and include him in a War Cabinet of just six members, with the service ministers outside it. However, he was advised that it would be unwise not to give Churchill a department, so Churchill instead became First Lord of the Admiralty. Chamberlain's inclusion of all three service ministers in the War Cabinet drew criticism from those who argued that a smaller cabinet of non-departmental ministers could take decisions more efficiently.

    [edit] War premiership

    The first eight months of the war are often described as the "Phoney War", for the relative lack of action. Throughout this period, the main conflicts took place at sea, raising Churchill's stature; however, many conflicts arose behind the scenes.
    The Soviet invasion of Poland and the subsequent Soviet-Finnish War led a call for military action against the Soviets, but Chamberlain believed that such action would only be possible if the war with Germany were concluded peacefully, a course of action he refused to countenance. The Moscow Peace Treaty in March 1940 brought no consequences in Britain, though the French government led by Édouard Daladier fell after a rebellion in the Chamber of Deputies. It was a worrying precedent for an allied prime minister.
    Problems grew at the War Office as the Secretary of State for War, Leslie Hore-Belisha, became an ever more controversial figure. Hore-Belisha's high public profile and reputation as a radical reformer who was turning the army into a modern fighting force made him attractive to many, but he and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Lord Gort, soon lost confidence in each other in strategic matters. Hore-Belisha had also proved a difficult member of the War Cabinet, and Chamberlain realised that a change was needed; the Minister of Information, Lord Macmillan, had also proved ineffective, and Chamberlain considered moving Hore-Belisha to that post. Senior colleagues raised the objection that a Jewish Minister of Information would not benefit relations with neutral countries, and Chamberlain offered Hore-Belisha the post of President of the Board of Trade instead. The latter refused and resigned from the government altogether; since the true nature of the disagreement could not be revealed to the public, it seemed that Chamberlain had folded under pressure from traditionalist, inefficient generals who disapproved of Hore-Belisha's changes.
    When Germany invaded Norway in April 1940, an expeditionary force was sent to counter them, but the campaign proved difficult, and the force had to be withdrawn. The naval aspect of the campaign in particular proved controversial and was to have repercussions in Westminster.

    [edit] Fall and resignation

    Following the debacle of the British expedition to Norway, Chamberlain found himself under siege in the House of Commons. During the Norway Debate of May 7, Leo Amery – who had been one of Chamberlain's personal friends – delivered a devastating indictment of Chamberlain's conduct of the war. In concluding his speech, he quoted the words of Oliver Cromwell to the Long Parliament:
    “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”
    When the vote came the next day, over 40 government backbenchers voted against the government and many more abstained. Although the government won the vote, it became clear that Chamberlain would have to meet the charges brought against him. He initially tried to bolster his government by offering to appoint some prominent Conservative rebels and sacrifice some unpopular ministers, but demands for an all-party coalition government grew louder. Chamberlain set about investigating whether or not he could persuade the Labour Party to serve under him and, if not, then who should succeed him.
    Two obvious successors soon emerged: Lord Halifax, then Foreign Minister, and Winston Churchill. Halifax would have proved acceptable to almost everyone, but he was deeply reluctant to accept, arguing that it was impossible for a member of the House of Lords to lead an effective government. Over the next 24 hours, Chamberlain explored the situation further. That afternoon he met with Halifax, Churchill and Margesson, who determined that if Labour should decline to serve under Chamberlain then Churchill would have to try to form a government. Labour leaders Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood were unable to commit their party and agreed to put two questions to the next day's meeting of the National Executive Committee: Would they join an all-party government under Chamberlain? If not, would they join an all-party government under "someone else"?
    The next day, Germany invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France. At first, Chamberlain believed it was best for him to remain in office for the duration of the crisis, but opposition to his continued premiership was such that, at a meeting of the War Cabinet, Lord Privy Seal Sir Kingsley Wood told him clearly that it was time to form an all-party government. Soon afterwards, a response came from the Labour National Executive – they would not serve with Chamberlain, but they would with someone else. On the evening of 10 May 1940, Chamberlain tendered his resignation to the King and formally recommended Churchill as his successor.
     
  5. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    You can't consider Atlee for the post because he was the Leader of the Labour party, it would have been impossible for him to become Prime Minister because the ruling party in parliament in 1940 was the Conservative party.

    It was from the Conservative ranks that the new Prime Minister would have had to come from.

    In the absence of Churchill, its almost certain in my view that Halifax would have been persuaded to become PM by Chamberlain
     
  6. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Under normal circumstances, the ruling party always chooses the Prime Minister under a parliamentary government. Thanks for reminding me of this point.
    Since this is a what if thread, I thought of considering Atlee since the politics at that time was in flux. If we consider all possibilities, I think the King could've ordered the Parliament dissolved and called for new elections to settle things. Correct me if I am wrong but that's how I understand how a parliamentary government operates. I understand that England operates under a constitutional monarchy. In this context, is my opinion plausible? Your reply would further my understanding of the UK.
     
  7. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    I guess since there's been no reply to my question, it's time for me to check out the British Council here to get some more background about this. This query of mine really intrigues me. I'll post what I learn from the guys and gals there.
     
  8. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    So, for anyone else to emerge Halifax has to be unavailable. Halifaxes position in the House of Lords is susposed to have made him a poor candidate. Assuming he rejects the opportunity, or is rejected, then it is still not clear who would be the next choice.

    I've pursued this question off and on for several decades and the two names that always come up are Halifax & Atlee. But, Atlee as a minority member has a weak chance at it & Halifax is also in weak position and reluctant. There must have been other powerful indivduals in the Conservative party who would have been available.
     
  9. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    That's how I read it too even with the limited knowledge I have of WWII British politics. I hope I can dig up something at the British Council.
     
  10. Sturmkreuz

    Sturmkreuz Member

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    Nothing, would have been the same.

    Pilots & the Planes they fought not him. Nor did he had anything to do with the outcome.
     
  11. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    Sorry about the delay. :(
    The King could dissolve parliament, and call new elections but this would be highly risky in wartime, and even if he did he would still have to ask the party with the largest number of MP's to form a government, and this would almost certainly have been the Conservative Party again.
    Therefore the Prime Minister would still have to come from the ranks of the Conservative party.. Atlee is not an option.
     
  12. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    Rab Butler and Antony Eden are two that could have been considered.
    Rab Butler would have sought peace, while Eden would have wished to continue with the war.. but without a leader with the personality of Churchill and his ability to inspire both parliament and the general population, I don't see anyone with the ability to raise the support needed to continue the war.
     
  13. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Thanks for the additional names. I'll include them in my research, Redcoat.
     
  14. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Now we are getting somewhere. So it is not impossible a British leader would at least hold some preliminary talks (probablly secret) with Germany, and that might lead to real negotiations. The alternate would be rejection of imeadiate peace talks, but a less focused or cohesive government continuing the war.

    In either case what changes when Germany attacks the USSR in 1941?
     
  15. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    After looking into this more closely, it would seem that the next best choice would be Anthony Eden. Eden and Churchill both led factions within Chamberlain's party. Eden also gained stature after he resigned when Chamberlain followed through with his appeasement policy with Italy. Unfortunately for Eden, after he resigned, he was not as publicly vocal as Churchill. Eden acted more like a refined aristocrat who was watchful of what he would say while Churchill had the gift for gab. The two were rivals and hardly got along while Chamberlain was in power but they shared the same views and principles.
    So, from what I was told by the helpful folks during my visit to the British Council at Ortigas Center, it would seem that it is possible that Eden could have been PM if for some reason or another, Churchill suddenly was not available to take over from Chamberlain. To be fair to Churchill, once Churchill took over, he took in Eden and the two became confidants.

    To be frank, the guys at the British Council did laugh when I asked about this because they never considered such a possibility. Fortunately, they were intrigued by the idea that they went into a discussion of British WWII politics, to which I was a rapt listener.
     
  16. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    As to Rab Butler, I was told that he was too identified with Neville Chamberlain. Most of the government executives or politicians that supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy had to lay low or were shunted to less important responsibilities after Chamberlain fell.
     
  17. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    This is excellent. I was unaware Eden had any role of importance in those days. Thought he came to prominence later, which shows how ignorant I am.

    That the group you spoke with ahd never considered this question suprises me. Evidently they are not alternative history fans.

    Anyway it looks like the leaders favoring peace all had fairly weak positions, and there was at least one prowar alternative to Churchill. Leaving aside dark horses abruptly rushing to the lead, it appears the prowar faction is the favorite for suplanting Chamberlains government. Further, if the peace factions attain power they are likely to depend on some fairly weak leaders in front, so that post Barbarosa Britian may still reenter the war against Germany.
     
  18. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

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    Didn't Churchill give Chamberlain a government post later on?
     
  19. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    According to the Conservative party rules in this period the successor was chosen by the outgoing leader( it would then be up to the senior members of the party to agree with it, normally this was a given)
    It was Churchill who later moved those who supported the appeasement policy too readily, if Rab Butler had been appointed this wouldn't apply.
     
  20. redcoat

    redcoat Ace

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    If Halifax hadn't refused the appointment of PM when it was offered to him. he would have been Prime Minister.
     

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